Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney dead at age 84

Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, has died at the age of 84 surrounded by family at a Palm Beach hospital, where he was being treated after a recent fall.

By John Marchesan

Brian Mulroney, Canada’s 18th Prime Minister, has died at the age of 84.

Caroline Mulroney confirmed her father’s death in a post on X, saying he died peacefully surrounded by family.

A spokesman for Mulroney’s daughter said he died at a Palm Beach hospital, where he was being treated after a recent fall.

Mulroney said funeral arrangements would be shared at a later date.

Mulroney served as Prime Minister from 1984 to 1993. He was known for his environmental and economic policies, including a treaty on reducing acid rain, and the NAFTA free trade deal.

Last summer, Mulroney underwent a heart procedure and earlier in the year, he was treated for prostate cancer.


Before becoming the first Quebecer to lead the Conservatives in the 20th century, Mulroney was the Boy from Baie-Comeau.

Born March 20, 1939, in the isolated smelting town on Quebec’s North Shore, his Baie-Comeau years had a profound influence on him.

The town was overwhelmingly francophone. Most of Mulroney’s playmates spoke no English and he grew up thinking there was nothing unusual about a bilingual existence.

The town mill was American-owned. Mulroney was raised on the notion that American investment meant jobs for his father and the other families in Baie-Comeau. He would go on to ease restrictions on American investment in Canada.

He worshipped his father Ben, an electrician who taught him the importance of loyalty. His father had always voted Liberal, but during his university years Mulroney became a prominent young Tory.

His political choice was a bizarre one for a young Quebecer at a time when the Liberals had a stranglehold on federal politics in that province.

He headed to the Tory leadership convention in 1956 intending to vote for Davie Fulton, but was mesmerized by the oratory of John Diefenbaker.

The 17-year-old student from Quebec and the 61-year-old Prairie populist would go on to form an unusual friendship that the young Mulroney would flaunt before his amazed chums by gathering them in a room and reaching the Chief on the telephone.

Mulroney rocketed to public notice in Quebec in 1974 after Premier Robert Bourassa appointed him to the Cliche commission investigating union violence in the construction industry.

The inquiry produced sensational headlines of union sabotage and scandalous cost overruns. It also put the effortlessly bilingual young lawyer with the honey-coated baritone on television screens every evening.

That exposure propelled Mulroney out of the political backrooms and into the orbit of some powerful Tory patrons. He quickly became a favourite to succeed Robert Stanfield as Conservative leader.

But grassroots delegates at the 1976 convention were wary of Mulroney’s corporate connections and suspicious that his smoothness masked superficiality.

Joe Clark, then a little-known backbench MP from Alberta, passed Mulroney on the second ballot and won the convention on the third.


The defeat of Clark’s minority government and the resurrection of the Liberals in 1980 unleashed a dump-Clark movement among Tories.

Publicly, Mulroney pledged loyalty to Clark. Privately, his friends in the party worked feverishly to undermine him and force a leadership review.

They ran a bruising guerrilla war against Clark and were elated when Clark told a party convention in 1983 that he would hold a leadership vote despite having the backing of two-thirds of his party.

Mulroney won the convention primarily on his promise to open the door to the Tories in Quebec. That door had been bolted shut to Conservatives with one exception since Louis Riel was hanged a century earlier.

On Sept. 4, 1984 — election day — Mulroney’s Tories kicked the Quebec door down. The province elected 58 Tory MPs, most of them political unknowns outside their ridings.

Mulroney had won the largest number of seats ever — 211 of 282 MPs — to become Canada’s 18th prime minister. It was an achievement paralleled in the 20th century by only one other Conservative leader — Mulroney’s hero, John Diefenbaker.

The bilingual Mulroney did what the unilingual Diefenbaker could not: On Nov. 21, 1988, he won a second majority mandate after a hard-fought election on free trade with the United States.

His honeymoon with the Canadian public actually lasted less than a year after his 1984 win.

Tories hoping Mulroney would become Canada’s version of John F. Kennedy had those hopes dashed when age-old political practices such as patronage begat age-old political scandals.

Eight ministers were forced to resign from Mulroney’s cabinet during his first four-year term. None of the scandals touched Mulroney personally, but his judgment was called into question for appointing ministers of dubious character.

Two years after the election, polls suggested the Conservatives had the support of some 20 per cent of Canadians, putting the party in third place behind the Liberals and the New Democrats.


If there was vacillation on some policy fronts, there was no shaking his commitment to Quebec. He persuaded first ministers to make it their priority to win Quebec’s backing for a renewed Constitution.

No one expected him to play midwife to a deal that would win the unanimous backing of all first ministers when he invited them to a little-known government retreat in the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa in 1987.

The whole country was surprised when their meeting produced the Meech Lake Accord. The package included recognition of Quebec as a distinct society and gave all provinces a greater say in the appointment of senators and justices of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Not since Confederation had any prime minister been able to strike a unanimous agreement on the Constitution.

That unanimity lasted as long as it took to change three provincial governments. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, long retired but still influential, attacked the pact to great effect.

Two years later, Mulroney would achieve consensus on an even broader constitutional deal — the Charlottetown agreement. Quebec would still be recognized as a distinct society, but natives won the right to govern themselves. The Senate was to be revamped so that each province would be represented equally by elected senators.

Every first minister and aboriginal leader enthusiastically supported the agreement. Initial polling results suggested most Canadians did as well and Mulroney decided to ask voters to back the pact in the country’s first referendum in 50 years.

But support bled away during the month-long referendum campaign.

Voters in six provinces, including Quebec, said No to the Charlottetown agreement and Mulroney abandoned his efforts to change the Constitution.


The economy will likely bear Mulroney’s longest-lasting imprints.

Free trade fundamentally restructured the country’s economic relationship with the United States and forced Canadian businesses to make painful adjustments.

He changed the way Canadians are taxed by bringing in the Goods and Services Tax. The measure was aimed at replacing a hidden tax. Canadians didn’t hide their scorn for it.

The changes were brought in just as the country was about to be brutalized by the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Bankruptcies hit record highs. Over 1.6 million people were out of work, many through sudden layoffs and plant closures. Taxes increased faster in Canada than in any other G7 country.

He killed the baby bonus, sold Air Canada and sliced the CBC and Via Rail — institutions that symbolized the country.

It was painful, and its unpopularity ultimately forced Mulroney from office.

Polls suggested his personal approval rating could be measured in single digits. The Conservatives fell behind the Liberals, NDP and upstart Reform party during much of 1992 and into 1993. Yet even then, his caucus stayed loyal, united by Mulroney’s personal leadership style, which remembered every birthday, cheered every birth or wedding, offered sympathy at every death.

He announced his resignation on Feb. 24, the least popular prime minister in the history of modern polling. He officially left office in June and his successor, Kim Campbell, led the Tories to destruction just weeks later.

Even after leaving office, he couldn’t shake the suspicions that dogged him, especially allegations that swirled around an Air Canada purchase of Airbus jets in 1988. In 1997, he won an out-of-court settlement with the then-Liberal government in a libel suit over an RCMP investigation of the Airbus matter.

But in 2008, Mulroney faced an embarrassing public grilling before a public inquiry charged with looking into his relationship with Karlheinz Schreiber, a shady German-Canadian businessman with ties to the Airbus file who eventually ended up in a German jail for tax evasion.

Mulroney testified he accepted the money to lobby foreign governments on behalf of Schreiber, contradicting Schreiber’s claim that the money was for lobbying the Canadian government.

The former prime minister said he was wrong to take Schreiber’s $1,000 bills and stash them in a personal safe and later a safety deposit box. He said he delayed paying taxes on the money for years because he thought of it as a retainer, not income.

Justice Jeffrey Oliphant found problems with the testimony from both men. Oliphant’s final report found a mess of lies, contradictions, calculated concealment and unresolved questions. In the end, though, despite the discrepancies, Oliphant’s finding was merely that Mulroney breached his own ethics code.


But Mulroney remained a respected statesman in the international community. He became a business consultant and took lucrative directorships on the boards of major global corporations.

In 1998, he was named a companion of the Order of Canada. There were other international awards.

In 2004, he and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher became the first foreign dignitaries to deliver eulogies for an American president when they spoke at Ronald Reagan’s funeral.

Mulroney suffered health problems off and on throughout his life. He was a heavy smoker for years before quitting. He was found to have a lesion on his lung in 2005 and underwent successful surgery. However, he subsequently developed pancreatitis and spent several weeks in hospital.

In April, Mulroney was treated for prostate cancer in Montreal. 

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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